Pig Business in Northern Ireland

No pig factory here! We’re here today to
protest against the largest pig planning application in the UK for a pig factory
with 2,700 sows that has the potential to produce eighty one thousand pigs per
year and over sixty six thousand tonnes of slurry. That’s equivalent to seven
hundred and twenty three thousand adults’ human sewage and our town’s only got
about twenty three thousand people in it this is a huge impact on us, on our
environment. Northern Ireland is being inundated with planning applications for
factory pig farms and their associated anaerobic digesters. Local people are
protesting because existing animal factories are sickening local residents, are
polluting natural habitats, and are destroying local economies. We don’t want 66
thousand tonnes of sh*t every year! An additional 60,000 tonnes coming from a
pig factory would finish this river. The main things that came out at allergens,
bacteria, fungi and viruses. We know that from previous factory farms that have been
studied. Some environmental disaster will befall us. There is a
strategy that we know called the ‘Going for Growth’ strategy and a very senior
figure involved in that strategy said that they would be quite content if the
numbers of farms reduced in Northern Ireland from twenty five thousand to six
thousand. I nearly fell off my chair when I read that. The people that are behind
this and all our pig factories are not farmers. They’re not farmers. They’re
going onto farmers’ land yes and paying off farmers but they are not farmers
themselves like; they’re businessmen. Heaven help us, what have they done?
A few years ago we were presented, we weren’t asked, we were
presented with this strategy that would absolutely and fundamentally reshape the
rural environment in Northern Ireland. It’s called ‘Going for Growth’ and it’s a
strategy to change the landscape but also to change the dynamics within rural
communities from family farms to intensive, globalised agriculture. ‘Going
for Growth’ is about sustaining the agricultural industry in Northern
Ireland. It is about ensuring that that we can
get out there and market our products and create jobs in rural areas. So they actually had
written that there would be 53,000 sows in Northern Ireland. That then would
equate to 1.3 million pigs for slaughter, again per year, and that equates to 1.1
million tonnes of slurry per year. The elected representatives there don’t have
an appreciation of the environment. They still think it’s something to exploit
and to make money from. Jobs come before the long term health of the people. The
numbers are quite phenomenal; the amount of slurry they’ll produce is the
equivalent of 12 million people and a population of 1.8 million. At the JMW
Ltd factory farm Bally Clare, a neighbour had tried to complain to the
management. It’s not a farm as such, it’s a factory or pig concentration camp
if you like. They wouldn’t talk to us. I have had the door slammed in my face
when I went to talk to them about issues. The owners of the JMW farm, Jim and Mark
White, refused our request for an interview.
They’re also directors of Crockway Farms Ltd in Somerset where animal welfare
campaigners Viva! exposed the squalid conditions in which the pigs were kept.
We’re willing to put up with some smell and some slurry. We tried to have a
barbecue and then halfway through the barbecue the smell has been vented and
we’ve had to go back in again. We can’t leave windows open. We can’t
leave the door open on hot days because this smell comes in.
If we leave clothing outside on the line the pig smell saturates everything, we have
to bring everything in. Locals have united against JMW farms’
request to enlarge this Bally Clare pig factory. A few miles down the road at
Monkstown is another large-scale pig factory owned by local farmer Steven
Hall. He has recently been given planning permission and has started building a
new pig factory and anaerobic digester a couple of miles up the hill at Newtownabbey.
I can hold my head high and say ‘I fought against this’. There’re individuals there
who should hold their heads in shame. So I think that while the general
public’s objection is primarily about smell, they really do need to understand
the potential toxic effect. There are going to be a number of ways it’s going
to impact on the local population which is appreciable. There are going to be
irritants and allergens, gases like ammonia and hydrogen sulfide. Sensitive
receptors have been defined as anybody living within 250 metres of where
this slurry is spread. They’re going to be impacted upon as well with
nuisance but also I think because it will lead in the population to an
increase in antibiotic resistant bacteria. I was an objector on behalf of
constituents. I’m also a personal objector, as it were, in that I suffer the
effects of the existing farm day in and day out. When it came to the planning
application for the factory farm, there were 250,000 people online who said no
they didn’t want it. And there were over a thousand letters
written by local residents who said, which is higher than any objections to
anything else in the Newtownabbey area, said we absolutely don’t want it. And one
person said ‘oh yeah, this is a great idea’ and we were utterly shocked that that
level of numbers wasn’t considered. If there’s evidence that a facility, doesn’t
matter what kind of facility, whether it’s an agricultural facility or otherwise,
will have a negative impact upon an individual’s health that’s an issue what
should be taken into account in terms of the planning process and will very often
lead to refusal. Though the recommended distance between an animal factory and a
private residence is 250 meters, Dr. Debbie Turner, an occupational health
specialist lives, only 150 meters from the site. Many objectors don’t believe
that health issues will be taken into account and her objection was ignored. I
quote part of her objection, ‘of huge concern to me is the spread of disease
from pigs to humans because of their close genetic links to human DNA.
High-risk populations like the very young, the elderly, pregnant women, and the
immunocompromised are all a very real risk of long-term health problems’. She
goes on, ‘The assertion in the applicant’s report that the proposal will not cause
demonstrable harm to human health is in no way substantiated or supported by any
proper research.’ The pig farm is a huge, massive factory that’s gonna
contain thousands of pigs who are gonna be just basically kept in a confined space.
Most of them will go to China. It’s gonna have an impact for me personally with my
son Logan who’s the youngest of my children. He has a chronic lung condition
and he’s also on the autistic spectrum and has sensory processing disorder. On
walking Logan to school, when he used to go to the primary school, he would
have vomited on the way to school because his senses were just overloaded with the
smell from this smaller pig farm which is below this one. And considering how much
more slurry is gonna be needed to be spread out in fields surrounding my home, I
would be concerned about that. My name Is Gesa Staats and I
worked as a vet on pig farms. I usually would have burning eyes from the ammonium
and in the evenings very often I would have migraines.
Your eyes burn and you don’t feel well. I mean, it’s no wonder that the
lungs and the eyes and whatever of the pigs get damaged and that they get infections
and that you then have to treat them with antibiotics.
Any child roaming around in this sort of area is potentially going to ingest
antibiotic resistant bacteria. Modern medicine relies on the use of
antibiotics and, of course, if they don’t work then it can lead to prolonged
illness or even, you know in the worst case, to death and we’re beginning to see
that with bacterial resistance. In Denmark, the overuse of antibiotics in
factory pig farms has led to a dangerous rise in human infections caused by the
antibiotic resistant superbug, MRSA. We know that we have to reduce our
antibiotic use. We have used too many antibiotics for many years so yes we
should have done this sooner and it would have been easier to contain for
instance the MRSA problem if we had done so.
The fact is that all countries with a big pig production have this problem,
they just don’t know exactly how big it is. A U.S. report showed that flies can
spread bacteria several miles from pig farms to neighboring people.
Another health issue is with the flies which are landing on the on the
pig slurry and then they’re coming across to our house and landing on items
of food. We’ve had to put flypaper up on the kitchen ceiling and we could
have as many as four or five rolls of flypaper hanging down. I was embarrassed
by the smell you know, if people would would come to call. If you left your
windows open at all your house was full of flies and my daughter was terrified
of flies and there were times at night when a fly would have gotten into her
room and she’d wake up screaming because a fly was, one of these big massive flies,
was buzzing around her bed. The local primary schools, shops and one hospital
are all less than two miles from pig factory units. I am a father and I am a
son. I’ve learned what I can and I’m passing it on. Heaven help us, why have they done? From the
very beginning, when this ‘Going for Growth’ strategy was initiated, they
compromised themselves by not complying with domestic and with European laws. And I say
that because the ‘Going for Growth’ strategy, there’s a planning programme which
is defined under the European Union Directive as requiring strategic
environmental assessments. This would look at all the different alternatives,
it would look at all the emissions. We didn’t have a strategic environmental
assessment in ‘Going for Growth’ because ‘Going for Growth’ was a project
been driven by the Department of Enterprise Trade and Industry at that
stage. So, I then started to ask, ‘well, who approved the ‘Going for Growth’ programme?’ So
I asked our elective representatives and they have never seen it. It doesn’t come
into the assembly, it wasn’t adopted by the assembly. So again we’re asking well
who said it was okay to adopt this? And, worse still, who said it was okay to
implement it? We have a separate department which is now DAERA
but was the Department of Environment. The regulation is extensive that exists.
We do not have light touch regulation, we have extensive regulation when it comes
to many of the environmental issues. However, objectors and conservationists
point to widespread failure to enforce environmental protection regulations in
Northern Ireland. So we have this cascade of systemic maladministration
from the day in which this process was initiated. And we’re seeing the
consequences now with a polluted countryside. For the Water Framework
Directive, for the Habitats Directive, the Birds Directive for these protected
Sites, these have all been compromised by this development. The ‘Going for Growth’
strategy was launched in 2013 and has almost reached its target of 53,000
sows. The basic problem with effluent is, silage effluent or slurry, the most basic
thing it does is remove oxygen from the water. Fish can’t survive if there’s no
oxygen. I have seen dead fish in the river, yeah. We’ve had pollution incidences.
If these factories do get the go ahead and keep spreading and spreading my
grandchildren will never even know what a salmon looks like! ‘Going for Growth’ will
ensure that you have an efficient industry. You know, we are in a global
market so we do have to be competitive. It will look to create more efficient
farming and as a consequence of that it’ll lead to larger units larger pig herds,
larger dairy herds and so forth, a greater concentration of animals on one
farm. If we think of the conditions in which these animals are reared: the
sterile conditions, the concrete slatted floors, the lack of bedding,
the lack of enrichment material, the semi-darkness in which they live and the
stench of the gases that are coming up from the slurry pit underneath, that is
what these pigs are condemned to for their short lives. I would say to the
consumer that this ‘Going for Growth’ strategy is an horrendous opportunity
for big business from America, from venture capital trusts in London who are
coming in and exploiting what is here. This ‘Going for Growth’ strategy is
bringing us all down to the lowest common denominator of agriculture to
produce that I wouldn’t be prepared to eat and I wouldn’t want any of my family
to eat either. As we walk through this wet field there should have been snipe,
there should be lap wings buzzing and curlies in the background. They were all
here when I moved here thirty years ago. In the 1980s, these habitats, these wet
margins, they were rich, they were teeming with birds like
curlews and snipe and lapwings. We had over a thousand pairs of curlews in
Northern Ireland, now we have about 40. It’s considered to be the next species
to become extinct. There were hundreds of corn crakes, they are extinct! They’ve gone
and what’s done it is man’s head on greed and grab attitude to the environment. We
pollute our waters, we let all the effluent from too many cows and too many
pigs as if it doesn’t matter about future generations.
I sat on the planning committee until I learned of the size and scale of the
factory and I removed myself as soon as possible from the decision-making
process so I could work with those who object. And my worry is they’ve got
planning permission for 15,000, so how’s the council going to turn him down if he
comes back in five years’ time goes ‘I want another couple of sheds,
I want another anaerobic digester there’? And then, of course, the exploitation of
the poor application of the laws becomes an absolute bonanza for the applicants
because the one thing the people putting in the planning applications have on their
Side is the best brains, the best expertise and how to weave their way
through dysfunctional government departments where one department doesn’t
talk to another and in fact I believe at times they don’t even understand the
laws. We also have serious problems for this potential conflicts of interest
where no one particularly cares if someone happens to be a consultant
wearing one hat and then a director of a large firm that may benefit profit-wise
from the outcomes of the project. We’re very small society and you know we
haven’t exactly ruled out cartels and all those sort of things that
would now be outlawed everywhere else, they still work. And I’m watching
myself here legally because they’re quite trigger-happy in that respect. It’s
factory like, it is not a farm. If they’d said factory it wouldn’t’ve got planning
permission. It’s too close to the housing. The building itself is in the wrong
place you can see at the side of it there’s a generator. That generator was
meant to be behind that building to actually cushion the noise from these
residents. So there’s a number of things Like that there that are may seem small
but to the lives of those individuals are massive. We will be watching you, the
planners, we will be watching you, the various environmental protection
agencies, because we will demand that you do your job and that you do it to the
highest standard. The growth of otherwise unprofitable
factory pig farms in Northern Ireland is being encouraged by massive financial
incentives for anaerobic digesters – ADs, most of which use livestock slurry to
make energy. Though the payment scheme is now closed for new ADs, most existing
ADs will continue to use livestock slurry and continue to attract payments
at a rate four times higher than anywhere else in the UK for 20 years. The
scheme is financed by a levy on UK electricity bills averaging at 200
pounds per household, per year. This anaerobic digester near the proposed
Limavady pig factory is only 35 metres away from the nearest home. Plus the AD
has no Waste Management Licence, no Habitats Assessment, no Bioaerosol
Emissions Assessment, and the farmer has a pollution conviction for discharge
from the site. Because of the way the AD plants operate, if they take slurry
they have to take an equal volume of green energy crops to feed the plants so
we’re actually now moving into a situation where we’re growing energy
crops and using land to feed AD plants and it’s been calculated that over
21,000 hectares of land will be required if all the AD plants that are in the
planning process come on stream. Then when we looked into that we discovered
that nobody was really controlling that land spreading and it looked as if they
could just put it wherever they wanted, and then we discovered that the NIEA –
to planning, had just written they had no objections. The Northern Ireland
Environment Agency has since admitted that they failed to undertake appropriate
Habitats Assessments for AD plants in Northern Ireland. It could be a
double-edged sword for some farmers, where somebody has an anaerobic digester
and farmers can’t afford to feed their animals. There was 179 applications
passed in Northern Ireland for AD plants. 69 are in operation. Each of them take
probably (through OFGEM we got the figures) £900,000 a year. Multiply that
by 69, by 21 years you’ve got £1.3 billion going to investors. In the
meantime in Northern Ireland those AD plants have slurry that needs to be
spread, so we’ve got more slurry. London city speculators, attracted by the huge
subsidies for renewable energy from anaerobic digester plants, persuaded
Raymond Pollock to sell his herd of organic dairy cows and join a scheme
whereby he would provide his grass silage and run the AD plant. They told us
it will take x tonnes of silage to run the plants, it turns it takes twice the amount.
This planning clearly states it was for a farm-based agricultural
project. This is no longer the case, I haven’t been involved in a license for over a
year and a half now. It’s now run from Savile Row in London by
Assured Energy Limited who developed the plant backed by GCP who are
a finance crowd. They are both running this now on a commercial basis. The
developers of it haven’t complied with all the planning and the environmental
issues, health and safety pay, and I’ve been having running battles with them,
and the biggest mistake I ever made was to build this plant. I cannot
understand why the authorities do not take more action to impose the rules and
regulations. The problem is the planning was in my name, the authorities
have threatened me with prosecution. So we’re here today outside the
Environment Agency to say we protest because we have no right of appeal in
Northern Ireland. We have no right of third-party appeal against planning
decisions. So that’s why we’re here today to let the Environment Agency know
that we’re protesting against this tyranny. We don’t have an administer, we
don’t have our government, we have civil servants making decisions about our
future and they are not listening to us. So today this is a protest like George
Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’ as an end to tyranny. These developments need to be assessed
cumulatively. In other words if there’s a pig farm down the road, and
there’s one three miles away and there’s another intensive poultry factory, the
emissions from all these developments with other pollutants need to be
assessed in combination. The Department of Agriculture implemented a derogation
for the Nitrates Directive if the developer splits projects across
multiple sites. So, to avoid a cumulative impact assessment the 80,000 piglets
from the proposed Limavady pig factory will be transported to over 40 other
factories for rearing. As each of these factories will hold under 2,000 pigs
they won’t be subject to ammonia thresholds so they won’t need pollution
prevention and control permits. A neat little loophole to keep spreading
ever more slurry. We don’t want 66,000 tons of sh*t every
year. Our fields can’t take it, our rivers can’t take it,
and we’re not going to take It. Today we’re outside DEARA
Headquarters. This is a brand new shiny building where NIEA have gotten into
bed with the Department of Agriculture and together they’re going to bring
intensive farming into Northern Ireland. How on earth could you have an
Environment Agency under the control of the Department of Agriculture that’s
promoting programs like ‘Going for Growth’ which is encouraging intensive farming
factories? I mean the two are not compatible in any way. At the minute the
chief executive of the NIEA has admitted to the public that the ammonia levels are
critical, and yet in his next breath ‘we must balance out with the ‘Going for
Growth’ programme’. Furthermore, we have 15 pig unit applications. Limavady was the
biggest one in the United Kingdom and we have just discovered that there’s one in
Ballyclare which is slightly larger. People are concerned about the value of
their properties and close proximity to these plants, and that the value will
drop because of smell and pollution and noise. We get lots of visitors to
Northern Ireland who are interested in Game of Thrones and the filming
locations are around the Limavady area and we want them to enjoy that,
of course. We don’t want them to experience a Northern Ireland which is
sort of dotted with huge industrial plants. We’ve had small farmers with 30
or 40 acres. The prices will drop, family farms will go, and then it will just come
into the hands of those people with factories, with vast and mass production of
food. It’s a bit like the parallel with the large supermarkets, who in England
and America wiped out all commercial activity in small towns, left towns with
no post office, no bakery, no nothing. Now you can apply the same parallel to this,
if these things are going to be allowed. And then at the end of the day who owns them?
Probably investors in China or Hong Kong or New York or wherever it is, it
doesn’t matter. So the people of the land of Ireland end up not only living in filth
and pollution, but also no ownership, no sense of community, no identity, no reason
for protecting it anymore. It’s almost like our country’s been invaded again by
foreigners, but using different techniques for acquiring our wealth.
Meanwhile on the golf course, a man laughs with his mates. They talk about
secrets they’ve buried, make plans to do more of the same. People sometimes hear
there’s jobs coming, but they don’t ask how many jobs are coming. And when we
tell them there are three or four jobs and, you know some of those are
pumping them full of antibiotics and some of them are dragging out dead piglets, then
they get it that it’s not you know good employment. So they’re
going to be spreading the slurry over 20 square miles and within that 20 square
miles there are three rivers, all the tributaries, 17 protected sites, and a
huge number of people here are living in those areas. As a campaign group we know there
are people up in arms. We would like more people to be up in arms and
you know that’s part of the work that we’re doing – is trying to spread the
message. If you look over these beautiful fields
you bask in the beauty of all they reveal, but come a bit closer look at the
soil where they’re spreading their mess where the water it boils. So we’re here in a
beautiful day at the Balmoral Show, this is the centrepiece of the farming
industry in Northern Ireland. It’s run by the Ulster farmers Union. Representative
organisations for the farming industry have become closer to the global
agri-food business, but that is not a future for the landscape, for the countryside,
for the wildlife, for the real economy. It’s not a future for farming
families either. Although I wrote several times to the Department of Agriculture
Environment and Rural Affairs DEARA, they refused to grant me an interview.
However, at Balmoral Agricultural Show I managed to doorstep the permanent
secretary of DEARA, and asked him why he’s giving out more planning permits to
large-scale pig and poultry factories when over 90% of Northern Ireland’s
protected habitats had already exceeded their critical nitrogen threshold. I
quote his reply “The view of the farming industry is that we’re saying ‘no’ too
much, and we’re in a no-win situation as we don’t have ministers in place so
there’s a limit to how much we can do.” He went on to say “It’s a £4.4 billion
industry, it’s employing a huge amount of people, it’s hugely important to our
society and our economy, and actually it’s moving in a very positive direction
in a vast majority of cases.” So five local people will be employed,
which is a joke, you know, it’s a joke so there’s no money, none of the money’s
staying in the community, you know, not even the meat’s
staying in the community. The meat’s going somewhere else, the pigs are going
somewhere else. So it’s bringing no worth at all to the
community or the local area. They say nothing is eternal, but I say
nothing is in vain. I live to love, I’m thankful for the road,
the rock, and the rain. So this is 20 years since the Good Friday Agreement
which was meant to create a lasting peace in Northern Ireland. And it is as if we’ve
changed the conflict, it’s no longer an official conflict between orange and
green, between nationalism and unionism. It’s as if now the conflict is against
nature, it’s against the countryside, it’s against the very things that unite us
like the land the air and the water, but the people who are resisting, these
corporations, are also reviving a different type of democracy. It’s a
grassroots environmental democracy. The choice is between a healthy and abundant
rural economy, based on fishing, based on family farms, based on good food, healthy
food, real food, or an alternative and that alternative is a spectre and it’s
called ‘Going for Growth’. I’m hoping that people go into these places and go
‘Why would I want to eat that? That’s not the way I want to live. I do not want my
kids, my family, eating stuff that’s pumped full of antibiotics.’ We’ve no traceability
of what is in our meat that we go to the supermarket and buy. We can all help
close factory pig farms by only buying meat with a high welfare label, like: RSPCA,
outdoor bred, free-range, and best of all organic. Either from a supermarket, or to
avoid the middleman buy direct from your local farm shop, farmers market, or online
via a box scheme. There’s a raising awareness of animal welfare. I know it
might not seem like it sometimes with you know factory farms springing up and
whatnot but there is, from people we talk to, especially our markets and one-to-one
with consumers. There is a desire for people to know where their pork and
their meat comes from. They want provenance they want to know how it’s
made. We don’t dock tails, we don’t cut teeth,
we try and keep everything as natural and organic here as possible. We’ve been
going for 20 years – a family farm. So we keep Tamworth pigs completely
free-range. When you want to keep pigs outside you have to realize you have to
use traditional breeds. The commercialization of farming has created
an industry that’s meant that people think that chicken and pork and bacon and
eggs are cheap. They’re not cheap, they shouldn’t be cheap. An animal died for
that and if it died then you should pay a good price. People don’t realize
how hard it is to keep going in this world of supermarkets which is just
pushing down the price of everything. You know they’re destroying their farmers,
the farmers are destroying their land because they’re having to just over
produce one product to keep it really really cheap. The whole system just
doesn’t work. We have to get back to a system where everything’s a lot smaller
and people should eat way less meat and way better meat in my opinion. We also
need to get active and the first thing we need to do is ensure that a
moratorium is imposed immediately on these new intensive factory farms. The second
thing we need to do is to ensure that there’s no further derogation by the
European Union to allow us to pollute even more under the Nitrates Directive.
The third thing we need to do is to ensure that we have a healthy planning
system where objectors have the same rights as developers and that’s why we
need something called third party rights of appeal in the planning system. We also
need to breathe new life in the planning system to ensure that it operates in the
public interest, not in the interests of narrow vested corporations. And finally I
think we have an obligation on ourselves as campaigners to promote the idea of
high welfare meat, that if we want to eat meat that we should respect the animal,
and we should respect the countryside to ensure that the highest environmental
Standards are imposed. So on an institutional level, right down to the local level, there are
so many things that we need to achieve and we will achieve them.

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